Building A One-stop Destination For Famous and Heritage Foods Of Bangladesh: An Interview With Masud Al Hasan, Founder, Proshiddho.com

Building A One-stop Destination For Famous and Heritage Foods Of Bangladesh: An Interview With Masud Al Hasan, Founder, Proshiddho.com

BD Venture Identity
Masud Al Hasan is the founder and CEO of Proshiddho.com– a Dhaka-based ecommerce startup that is building a one-stop destination for famous and heritage food products from all parts of Bangladesh such as Shahi Doi of Bogra, ChomChom of Tangail, Chanamukhi of Brahmanbaria and more.

In this interview, Mr. Hasan talks about his motivation behind starting Proshiddho, early days and current state of the company, challenges of building a platform, discusses how Proshiddho collaborates with famous and heritage food manufacturers across the country and manages the complex process of sourcing and distribution, shares his thought about competition and why delivering on your promise is the key to building trust and why building a business from scratch is the ultimate difficult job.

Future Startup

Tell us about yourself and your journey to what you are doing today.

Masud Al Hasan

I spent most part of my early life in Chittagong. I attended Chittagong Collegiate School for my SSC and did my HSC from Haji M Mohsin College. I graduated from Chittagong University and then did my Master from BUET in Information and Communication Technology. I have an MBA in accounting from Dhaka University as well.

I started my career at People’s University Bangladesh in 2007 where I taught at their CSE Department for almost two years before joining Investment Corporation of Bangladesh(ICB) as an Assistant Programmer. After a while, I became a programmer there. I worked at ICB for almost five and half years before leaving in May 2015. Afterward, I joined one of my Teachers at BUET as a freelancer. The nature of the job is much more flexible for me now. These are mostly deadline oriented work where timely delivery of the work is more important than attending office.

I love traveling and have been an avid traveler since my student life. While experiencing local products and specialties of all these places, I used to ponder upon the idea of building a platform where we could find all the famous and best heritage local products of Bangladesh such Khirsha of Bogra, ChomChom of Tangail, Kheer of Matlab and more and a place that we could trust and shop blindly. That’s how the idea of Proshiddho came into being.

I asked two of my friends whether they would be interested in starting such a business. After much discussion, we decided to go ahead. I had a small saving that I wanted to invest and my two other partners would invest after 6-8 months when we would need further capital injection.

We realized early on that if you want to succeed in any business, you should have a deep domain knowledge and understand the nitty-gritty of your industry. If you don’t know much about your product and don’t understand your business deeply then your chance of success will reduce dramatically.

My advantage was that I already knew many of the famous manufacturers of local foods across the country since I used to travel a lot during my student life. We started to communicate with some of them and bring food from different manufacturers to understand and learn how to handle the foods better in different temparatures and conditions.

We did this throughout 2014. After much preparation, we finally launched Proshiddho in January 2015. We started quite small. I had a full-time job and was doing this on the side. One of our partners was supposed to be a working partner and look after the operations and another was a banker.

We don’t rely on any third party partner for our food collection. We directly work with manufacturers/producers. I and my team personally visited all the places and went to the producers and checked individually whether they are the main producers or not. We have professional relationships with almost all the producers across the country except for a few who don’t get into business collaboration.

I love traveling and have been an avid traveler since my student life. While experiencing local products and specialties of all these places, I used to ponder upon the ideas of building a platform where we could find all the famous and best heritage local products from all over Bangladesh- a place where we could find original and pure products and shop blindly.

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Future Startup

Please give us an overview of Proshiddho, both a little bit about the early days of the company and also about where the company stands today.

Masud Al Hasan

When we started in 2015, our only target market was corporate offices in Motijheel. We had a website but it was not good enough. We later worked with SSL Wireless to develop our Website and android app. Both are now much better. We had a small shop, half of this one (the current shop of Proshiddho).

I used to visit offices in Motijheel along with our products through references and serve yogurt and sweetmeats to officials after launch so that people get to know about us which I did for almost a year. The approach worked well. Within the 6 months of our launch, our daily sales reached to BDT 30,000 and we continued to do well till March-April the next year.

We had over 3000 regular customers only in Motijheel area. Ajkerdeal reached out to us during this time and we started to sell our products through their platform. But we used to maintain the logistics ourselves in order to ensure that our customers get the best possible service since food products are always sensitive. We were seeing a steady growth.

Initially, we hired 4 people besides us, three partners. We was covering only Motijheel area but when we started working with Ajkerdeal, we had to cover almost entire Dhaka city and increase our delivery team to 10 people.

As I mentioned earlier, I had a full-time job and was doing this on the side. In March 2016, I had to go to Malaysia and stay there for three months for an official assignment. While I was in Malaysia, one of our partners who was responsible for operations went on to start another company called Sohi that disrupted our operations in a major way. Sohi was in the market for around 2 months and it sold the same products to our customers using our database and misinformed many of them.

When I returned from Malaysia, the business was in a very bad shape. It was a devastating experience for me and a huge financial loss as well. I was disheartened but did not think for once to shut it down. I was not dependent on Proshiddho for myself and I was not taking a salary yet. But this was and is something I love and wanted to take big. Our initial goal was to survive and the take it big slowly.

Afterward, instead of shutting down the operations, I reduced the team size as well as implemented some cost-cutting measures and decided to go slow. We used to run marketing campaign through Facebook and also through mobile SMS but after the incident, we stopped all of that.

While our major client database was gone, we had details of a few of our previous customers. After a while, when things became normal we resumed our SMS marketing as well as our Facebook campaigns. Gradually, we started to receive a small number of orders daily and it continued to grow. Many of our old customers also started to return.

We realized early on that if you want to succeed in any business, you should have a deep domain knowledge and understand the nitty-gritty of your industry. If you don’t know much about your product and don’t understand your business deeply your chance of success will reduce dramatically.

Today, we are much more resilient as a company. We now offer over 21 products, mostly sweetmeats along with a few other products. Our team has also grown over the past months and we are now a team of 12 people. We are also capable of same day delivery and serving over 35 orders per day.

Our team works extremely hard to manage the entire supply chain. They are on the move all the time. If you are to supply original products you really need to work harder. Model-wise, we are not a marketplace, rather an online store is more appropriate for us. We manage everything starting from product sourcing to inventory management to logistics.

We maintain professional relationships with our suppliers who are all famous producers of sweetmeat products in different parts of the country. Most of them send us products as we order. Initially, it was hard to convince most of these suppliers to work with us because they already sell huge amount without doing much.

Moreover, they feared that we would cannibalize their business by producing their products ourselves. We had to convince them that the value we are selling is not only service and distribution, we are also selling their brands as well. That there is no point in making all the products ourselves. However, we believe as our scale grows, things will get better for us.

The problem that we are solving is not only building a place where you can find famous and best heritage products from all over the country, it is way more complex than that. Our ambition is to become your first choice for buying products that you crave for.

We now offer over 21 products, mostly sweetmeats along with a few other products. Our team has also grown over the past months and we are now a 12 person team. We are also capable of same day delivery and serving over 35 orders per day. We have already reached operational break-even and have been seeing a consistent growth since then. Our entire team works extremely hard to manage the entire supply chain. They are on the move all the time. If you are to supply original products you really need to work harder.

Future Startup

What is Proshiddho now?

Masud Al Hasan

We are the destination for famous and prominent food products of Bangladesh. As I said earlier, the idea came because we thought that it would be great to have a place from where we could buy all the famous and best heritage products from all over the country such Khirsha of Bogra, ChomChom of Tangail, Kheer of Matlab and more.

We collect all these products from original producers/manufacturers from all across the country and deliver to our customers. We have a website as well as mobile apps. You can either order through our website or mobile apps or Facebook or you can just call us and place an order and get your favorite food delivered.

We are obsessed with ensuring best possible customer service. Our ambition is to become the best service providing company in Bangladesh. We don’t merely want to be the best service providing company, we work hard to make it happen. Ensuring authenticity and quality are our obsessions. The products we sell are made by the producers we claim they are made by and that is it.

We are currently offering mostly sweetmeats along with honey and a few other products but in the coming years, we plan to add more products.

We are the destination for famous and prominent food products from all over the Bangladesh. As I said earlier, the idea came because we thought that it would be great to have a place from where we could buy all the famous and best heritage products from all over the country such Khirsha of Bogra, ChomChom of Tangail, Kheer of Matlab and more. We collect all these products from original producers/manufacturers from all across the country and deliver to our customers.

Future Startup

Your business process is quite complex, particularly supply end, how do you manage everything?

Masud Al Hasan

Initially, it was super hectic because we had to go to individual producer in different parts of the country to collect products. Over the years, we have been able to build good relationships with our suppliers and many of them now send us products according to our orders. For others, our team directly collect from sources.

We manage almost everything ourselves. We don’t rely on any third party partner for sourcing. We maintain our own logistics. We plan to continue doing so in order to control experience of our customers.

Future Startup

Can you tell us about your growth and strategies you are using to grow faster?

Masud Al Hasan

Over the past six months, we have been growing daily with over 90% returning customers. Retention is one of our key growth strategies. We believe that we are in a relationship business and it is important that we maintain a long-term relationship with our customers.

We work hard to make sure that we provide best possible service to our customers. When we make a mistake we try to correct it as quickly as possible. We seldom get complaints but whenever there is one we immediately solve it. We never investigate or bother our customers when they send us a complaint asking unnecessary questions. If a client says something is amiss, we refund or replace without further question.

Future Startup

What challenges did you face in the early days and what are the challenges now that you are growing?

Masud Al Hasan

Achieving trust of our customers was an uphill battle for us in the early days. Since we were new, and the food is a sensitive area, creating awareness and convincing people was hard initially. We have worked hard to make sure that our customers have faith in us. We have continuously been investing in technology so that we could serve our customers better.

The main challenge for us now is ensuring on time delivery, given that the traffic condition in Dhaka is only getting worse. For the long distance delivery, we currently use public transport and for short distant ones our team use bicycle. However, we will be able to serve our customers better once we have our local warehouses in place.

We are obsessed with ensuring best possible customer service. Our ambition is to become the best service providing company in Bangladesh. We don’t merely want to be the best service providing company, we work hard to make it happen. Ensuring authenticity and quality are our obsession. The products we sell are made by the producers we claim they are made by and that is it.

Future Startup

How do you reach out to your customers?

Masud Al Hasan

We use Facebook for marketing. Over the past months, SSLCommerz has helped us to reach out to clients like MasterCard, Visa, The City Bank and more.

We also use direct marketing channels and send SMS to our existing users. That said, a significant percentage of our growth has been organic. We are lucky to receive a lot of orders through word of mouth. Our existing customers often refer us to others.

One of our key growth strategies is retention. We invest heavily in retaining our existing customers and making sure that they receive best of our services. We send SMS, special offers to our existing clients to build a lasting connection with them.

We plan to up the game as we go. Currently, we are in conversation with a handful of catering and event management services for potential partnership which we believe will give a further boost to our growth. We have other plans but that is in the future.

Future Startup

How do you think about competition?

Masud Al Hasan

Competition is natural. There is and will be companies operating in the same space. We try not to worry about competition rather focus on our own work. Our ambition is to ensure best possible customer service and that’s where we want to focus.

We understand that we don’t sell our own products and there is not a much competitive advantage for us. Anyone can sell the products that we are selling but this is not a business to us, it is a passion and we are here to serve our customers.

Future Startup

What are the future plans?

Masud Al Hasan

Our ambition is to become the trusted destination for all types of food products in Bangladesh. We started with sweetmeats and our plan is to slowly move up the product ladder.

Going forward, there will be warehouses of Proshiddho in the different parts of Dhaka and then all across the country. We don’t plan to open any shop rather fulfillment center type warehouses so that we can deliver fast and serve our customers better.

We have plans to expand geographically. We slowly plan to expand into Sylhet and Chittagong in the near future.

Future Startup

What are key lessons you have learned from your journey so far?

Masud Al Hasan

Business, any kind of it, is all about trust and trust comes from delivering on your promise. Naturally, when you make a commitment, make sure that you fulfill it. If you can’t, give a good reason and explain. Our common tendency when we fail to deliver is to hide or avoid our responsibility but it never helps. Communicate with your customers when you fail to deliver and be honest and compensate where necessary.

There is a rather romantic idea about startup and entrepreneurship among most young people. When people start a business, they often expect to become an overnight success but it does not happen that way. There is no set working hour in business. It is a 24 hours job.

Things often take longer than usual and there is no lack of challenges in business. Business is hard. It is incredibly challenging to build a business from scratch whereas doing a job is way easier. If you are starting a business, expect a lot of hard work and disappointments.

There is a rather romantic idea about startup and entrepreneurship among most young people. When people start a business, they often expect to become an overnight success but it does not happen that way. There is no set working hour in business. It is a 24 hours job. Things often take longer than usual and there is no lack of challenges in business. Business is hard. It is incredibly challenging to build a business from scratch whereas doing a job is way easier. If you are starting a business, expect a lot of hard work and disappointments.

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